Mitch Albom is from Detroit and he does a lot of book signings in my area as a result. A good friend of mine and I went to hear him speak a few years ago and I got a copy of his latest (at the time) signed. I hate taking signed books out of my apartment, so using an audio version of this book made the most sense to me. It was a nice, quick read.
The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom
My past post on Meeting Mitch Albom
Summary from Goodreads:
The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out. An allegory about the power of belief–and a page-turner that will touch your soul–Albom’s masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected.
I’ve read and listened to a few of Albom’s books before and this seems right in line with his style. He’s going to talk about Christianity without hitting you over the head with it and he’s also going to talk about doubting religion and that strengthening belief. This book was hard to read only because my Christian side wanted to believe and my reader side wanted to think ‘Magical Realism’ but following a character who doubted so strongly made me doubt, too. I wasn’t sure what to think until the end, which I’ll avoid talking about. I liked the ride, though. The breadth of characters covered the topic well and gave me someone to commiserate with each step of the way.
I liked that there were characters who were strong believers, skeptics, and people who went through all stages of belief and disbelief along the way. I think that’s a fair representation of how humanity would respond to such a miracle. I’ve often wondered if a great prophet came to Earth, would we believe him or her? Would we discredit this person or recognize that he/she is the one we’ve been waiting for? I think Albom must have wondered something similar when he wrote this book. Some believed it immediately, dropping everything and moving to Coldwater while the miracle was happening. Others came out of anger and a lot kept at arms distance and waited for proof that the whole thing was real. I liked how the people of Coldwater went through this as well, even those receiving the calls. It seemed real and made me wonder where I would fall if calls like that really happened.
Jack was my favorite character. I thought the way he dealt with his son’s calls was really believable. At first he wants to keep them to himself and not call attention to himself, which I could see a police officer wanting to do. I liked seeing his internal struggle to tell his ex-wife and how he told Tess to commiserate with her. I think he really struggled with believing Robby was really talking to him and thought that if he said it out loud, he would have to believe it.
I think I would have trouble believing something as wondrous as phone calls from Heaven at first. I think I would be like Elias or Jack and think it was someone trying to trick me for a while, testing the miracle to see if it stood on its own two feet before I could buy in completely. Even Pastor Warren was skeptical and Father Carole called in his boss to make a decision. This helped me feel like it was OK to doubt but to question and not discredit something that could be a miracle.
I love Sully’s story. It was so moving and complicated and I thought Albom did a great job of balancing all of the conflicting feelings inside Sully. I was scared for a second that he was going to give him a romantic relationship with Liz but I think the way that ended was for the best. Sully was looking out for his son most of all and on his journey to protect the boy, he ended up neglecting him a bit. He needed to refocus his priorities and Liz helped him do this.
I didn’t’ like Amy’s character very much. She was really self-focused and I felt like she was taking advantage of Katherine the whole book. Even when she was taken off the story, she stayed with Katherine because she had no where else she wanted to be. She didn’t even seem to care when her fiance left her and didn’t try to hard to contact him. She seemed unimportant to the plot and just fulfilled Albom’s desire to have a reporter character in the story.
Albom narrated the audiobook himself which I really liked. He gave the characters the voices he wrote them with. There were a few instances of him using audio effects like knocking and thumping to enhance the story which I really liked. He narrated well but that can be expected from a radioman. I hope he does his other audiobooks as well.
All of the characters struggled with belief. Even Catherine, who believed immediately and spread the word, struggled with others not believing her and how to handle those who doubted her. The characters were very representative of Christians that I’ve met. Some believe with all of their hearts and struggle to see how others can live without the faith they have. Others used to believe but have fallen away from God for one reason or another. Others don’t believe and many are somewhere in the middle. The book brought up something incredible that effected people’s faith in different ways and showed how no one Christian is exactly like another and how things can shake or build faith depending on how they’re perceived.
Writer’s Takeaway: I thought Albom had almost too many characters. I struggled a bit to keep Jack and Jeff straight and I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the TV people besides Amy. I’m glad he didn’t include all of the people receiving phone calls but I thought he could have focused on just a few less to help the reader keep more of them straight.
This was a solid book that helped me see how strong my faith is. Four out of Five Stars.
Until next time, write on.
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